It’s worth noting that there are no independent brick-and-mortar stores other than parenting books. Amazon lists over 110,000 books, and they fall into that unique category of books, and buying one or five doesn’t stop you from buying another dozen. The experience of parenting is so overwhelming for everyone, yet so unique and unique that no single book can capture the experience or satisfy even a single person seeking guidance (or catharsis) need.
So, no matter what your current parenting home library looks like, here I offer five suggestions to supplement it from an evidence-based science perspective, limited to those published within the past year or two. One of them is a bit cheeky, I admit, since I co-authored it and it’s not yet on the shelves, but it seems remiss to not include it. Every year I get countless book review requests and dozens of physical books in the mail, and all of the books I review here are offered as review copies. However, I only included those that I had time to read and found valuable.
Expect better: Why conventional pregnancy wisdom is wrong — and what you really need to know by Emily Oster
Oster, an economist at the University of Chicago, looked at all the warnings and advice pregnant women feel at (approximately) 38-42 weeks of gestation (less or more if circumstances warrant). She divides the book by conception, each trimester, labor and delivery, and then reviews data on everything from miscarriage fears to morning sickness, diet and weight to exercise, induction to epidurals. The chronological structure was logical, and she paired it with comments about her own first pregnancy, during which she sought out most of the information she discussed.
What is particularly effective in this book is that Oster guides the reader not only through the data she reads, but also through what it means and how it should be interpreted. The book is jam-packed with figures, graphs, and graphs, but Oster works hard to demystify them and make the data from all the studies she reads available to lay readers. Sometimes she’s a little off target in this regard – I find some of her personal stories distracting, some data discussions are just tedious enough to temporarily lose my focus – but I also find myself distracted when I read too much With regard to any data, even a subject I’m very interested in, so I suspect the experience is more a consequence of the subject than its processing. Data can be dense, even if you want to read it. So Oster’s explanations as he leads the reader – what are the limitations of each study, how big or small is a study, how to tease out cause and effect, and what other factors play a role in the results – helps understand it all.
My two biggest niggles were not discussing vaccinations during pregnancy (flu and Tdap vaccines are important) and Oster’s treatment of alcohol during pregnancy, which she criticized when the book was published in 2013. The issue of drinking any alcohol has always been a concern during pregnancy, and Oster has only sneaked in the evidence to make her short. She found deficits in studies that found light drinking could lead to pregnancy problems, but she wasn’t critical enough of the deficits in studies that found little to no risk of light drinking during pregnancy. After digging through the data myself, I’m disappointed she wasn’t more thorough and picky in this regard.
Beyond that, however, Oster was on the mark most of the time.Despite the glut of pregnancy books on the market, few have taken a truly evidence-based approach – Maggie Koerth-Baker has a great summary of these books (including expect better) — so Auster’s readable, sometimes humorous, and often reassuring book is a welcome addition.
Science for Moms: A Study Guide for Baby’s First Years by Alice Callahan
Alice Callahan’s new book, named after her excellent, highly recommended blog, Science of Mom, picks up where Oster left off. Like Oster, Callahan has a Ph.D., but hers is in nutrition, which she puts to good use in a book that covers pretty much everything you want to know about a baby’s first year information. Callahan opens with a chapter called “Show Me Science,” which does an excellent job of explaining how science works. She reviews the types of studies and their relative reliability, causality and correlation, what the numbers mean, and how to assess risk. She covers the first semester of her epidemiology course quickly and thoroughly, and she doesn’t neglect to explain where the science might fall short. “Science has remained my sanctuary as I write this book, even as I recognize its limitations,” she writes at the end of the book, a sentiment I can relate to myself.
Like Oster, Callahan brings her own personal experience to break down the density of the material she covers, and I find her writing a bit clearer, as in her blog.She also always sets aside dogma, recognizing the complexities of incorporating science-based advice into real life, babies don’t sleep like we’ve been told, and refuses to eat broccoli even at 17th attempt. Her sympathy and empathy for parenting difficulties runs through every chapter, from breastfeeding to vaccines to feeding to sleeping.
It’s challenging to cover everything, and Callahan digs some areas more deeply than others (a whole chapter on the umbilical cord), but it’s one of the best books that reviews the evidence on these topics without telling you which How to do it. I find her appendices particularly valuable because she addresses some of the vaccine issues of particular concern to parents, such as whether a child is getting too much vaccinated prematurely and some of its ingredients, and information on hepatitis B and vitamin K injections at birth.
Screen-smart parenting: How to find balance and benefits when your child uses social media, apps and digital devices by Jody Gold
As a pediatrician, Jodi Gold probably answers questions about TVs, iPads, smartphones, and other screen time issues every day. Her own three children, who have stretched from digital natives to one big enough to remember when the iPhone came out, have wrestled over these issues in her own home. This combination makes her book smart, guilty, and down to earth. You won’t find a Luddite here. In fact, a key message running through her book is that you can’t fight technology – it’s here, it’s here to stay, so the key should be finding healthy, balanced ways to engage with it and teach those behaviors to your child. Of course, she emphasized from the beginning that the first step is to be honest about your use. She recommends that each family document the technology and gadgets they use and how often they use it, so they can start from there on a plan that works for their family.
It’s hard to find a book — let alone an evidence-based one — that offers something for parents of babies to teens, yet screen smart parenting That’s what it does. The second part of the book is divided by age: 0-2, 3-5, 6-8, 8-10, 11-14 and 15-18. From whether toddlers should play with an iPhone, to when school-aged children should get their first phone, to whether to follow your child on social media, to how to deal with cyberbullying or sexting, Gold is appropriate covers a wide range of fields. She never shy away from tough topics—she tackles depression, anxiety, and suicide—but she never suggests one solution is right for everyone. She also recognizes relying on evidence to show that a field is changing so fast that her book is out of date the day she typed her last word. She summarizes what we know so far, what we know about its reliability and the larger areas where we need more research. But her approach to technology and parenting will not go out of style. My kids are still young – first kids in kindergarten – but I can see myself recalling this book in their teens (hopefully she’ll have a new version by then!).
Kids Kitchen Science Lab: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments Liz Lee Heinecke
Unlike the previous three, Children’s kitchen laboratory science It is not based on research per se, nor is it a “guideline” in any sense. Instead, it’s the coolest recipe book you can buy for your kids, and a surefire way to get the most out of your kitchen. Drawing inspiration from the best experiments and activities on her blog, Kitchen Pantry Scientist, Heinecke provides a fun project for each week of the year, beautifully laid out in bright and colorful pages with bill of materials, safety tips , photos, step-by-step instructions, “the science behind the fun” and creative ways to enrich the experience.
She also outlines how to document your experiments – just like real scientists do – to keep track of what children do and what they learn. These activities range in age from preschool to adolescence, but are mostly in elementary and middle school, and are organized according to their fields: Chemistry, Geology/Crystals, Physics/Sports, Life Sciences, Liquids, Materials, Acids and Bases, Microbiology , electricity, botany, solar science and rocket science. It’s hard to imagine a better way to get kids excited about STEM than with experiments at home and in the community, and Heinecke’s book makes it easy even for parents who have forgotten everything they learned in science class Pick and choose great events.
Informed Parents: Science Resources for Your Child’s First Four Years Emily Willingham and Tara Heller
As I warned above, one of the books is my own, co-authored with Forbes contributor Emily Willingham. Instead of raving about everything we’ve covered, I’ll tell you how and why this book came about. As I write more and more about medical research in pediatrics and antenatal health, I realize that mainstream news is missing a lot of what I want to know and understand, including the relative strength of the findings and how the research was conducted, more than 600 – Text stories. This prompted me to create my blog Red Wine & Applesauce, where I delved into these issues myself. Meanwhile, Emily also writes a lot about what the evidence actually says about pregnancy, parenting, and children. With funding from the National Association of Science Writers, she founded Double X Science, where one of our teams regularly tackles these topics (and early drafts of some parts of our book can be found).
But that’s not enough. I wanted to see the big picture – as much as possible about the research consensus in every area of parenting young children, all in one place. When I went looking for that book, I couldn’t find it. (It’s worth noting that the later books of Oster and Callahan fulfilled this need to some extent, although none of them covered the ambitious scope I was seeking.) Instead, I found dozens of Books, they tell me what to do or how to follow particular parenting philosophies, sometimes backed up by handpicked evidence, sometimes just dumped by authorities with letters after their names.
So, Emily and I decided to write this book that we’ve always wanted but never found. We start in the years before conception and go all the way up to age 4, covering everything from pregnancy to childbirth to vaccines, feeding, allergies, circumcision, screen time, reading, autism, essential oils, IVF to potty training… and many more. We can be blamed for covering such a broad spectrum – like Oster and Callahan, we have to make hard choices about what to include, what to exclude, and how deep into each area. But we want to have at least an overview of some of the biggest fields, while at least touching on some of the smaller ones, and like Oster and Callahan, we strive to explain how science works and how readers can evaluate research for themselves. Happily, Oster and Callahan dig deeper into some of the areas we skipped, but each of them skips over areas we dig into. Of course, the conclusion you should draw from this is that you should buy all three! Our book expires in April 2016, but is available for pre-order now.